Following the arrests of several members of an armed group controlling a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and the shooting death of the group’s spokesman, New Mexico’s U.S. senators called for legal action against the protesters and an end to the standoff.
“I respect the right of all Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest laws and policies,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. “But the standoff in Oregon has gone far beyond protest or civil disobedience. The Refuge occupiers pose a significant danger to themselves, law enforcement and the nearby community, and now tragically, the situation has turned deadly.”
Late Tuesday, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, the spokesman for the group occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was killed by law enforcement during a traffic stop. Ammon Bundy, the group’s leader, was among those arrested during the stop.
An unknown number of protesters remain at the refuge, surrounded by law enforcement. Udall, in his statement, called the group’s occupation of the wildlife refuge “an illegal and armed attempt to seize land that is owned by all Americans.”
“Those involved should face legal consequences for their actions,” he said. “I’m hoping that reason will prevail and the remaining individuals will surrender without further avoidable violence.”
While making no mention of Finicum’s death, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he was “hopeful” that the arrests of the leaders of the armed group would end “the dangerous and illegal takeover.”
“Violence is no way to resolve our differences,” read the statement released by Heinrich. “The people of Harney County deserve their community back.”
Heinrich, who has called for the prosecution of the protesters, urged the U.S. Department of Justice to “use all of the resources at its disposal to safely restore the rule of law and bring those responsible to justice so that this never happens again.”
Details surrounding the death of Finicum, 55, who was from Cane Beds, Ariz., were unclear. A man claiming to be a driver during the traffic stop says Finicum was charging police when he was shot. Finicum’s daughter, meanwhile, posted on Facebook that her father’s “hands were in the air and he was shot in the face by the American authorities.”
Law enforcement has declined to release details, citing an ongoing investigation.
Adrian Sewell, the NM rancher
Among those mourning Finicum’s death was a New Mexico rancher who renounced his federal grazing contract on Saturday during a protest held by the armed group. Whether Adrian Sewell, who operates a ranch near Silver City, remains with the armed group at the wildlife refuge isn’t clear. But after Finicum’s death, Sewell changed his Facebook profile photo to a photo of him posing with Finicum.
Sewell hasn’t responded to messages from NMPolitics.net on Facebook seeking comment.
Since reporting over the weekend on Sewell’s role in the protest, NMPolitics.net has asked Sewell’s three elected representatives in the U.S. House and Senate — Heinrich, Udall, and Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican — to comment on Sewell’s protest and his stated intent to stop paying grazing fees to the U.S. Forest Service.
All three have commented on the standoff but not on Sewell’s involvement.
Pearce issued a joint statement with other leaders of the House’s Western Caucus on Jan. 7, and his office pointed back to that statement this week.
“While we do not condone the current actions taken by a select few in Oregon, we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers,” the statement read. “We are a nation of laws, and when those laws are broken there are supposed to be consequences. But the law is also supposed to be fair and equitable.”
Another New Mexican with political ties opined on Facebook about Finicum’s death early Wednesday. A. Blair Dunn, son of N.M. Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and a Republican candidate for an Albuquerque-area state Senate seat, wrote on Facebook that America stands “at the brink.”
“This happened because our government is no longer bounded in the law,” Dunn wrote. “They have set themselves above the law and people have given up on finding justice in the law.”
“… Now more that ever we must loudly declare our divinely bestowed rights and demand our government follow the law, we must demand justice, so that no patriot since our founding up to Mr. Finicum will have laid down their life in vain,” Dunn wrote.
Even after Finicum’s death and the arrests of Bundy and others, the occupiers of the wildlife refuge plan to stay, CNN is reporting. On social media the occupiers were calling for backup and speaking about a “final stand,” reportedly saying they would shoot if law enforcement launched an “armed invasion.”
One of the protesters who remained at the refuge, Jason Patrick, was quoted by USA Today as saying, “A peaceful resolution is not dead people.”
The FBI has surrounded the refuge and set up roadblocks. Fox News reported that the feds, who allowed the protest to continue for weeks, were signaling that its time was coming to an end.
The sheriff in Harney County, where the wildlife refuge is located, was quoted by Fox News as saying there “doesn’t have to be bloodshed” and he was “disappointed” that Tuesday’s traffic stop “ended badly.”
“We don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels,” Sheriff Dave Ward was quoted as saying. “This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America. And this can’t happen in Harney County.”